Guarding Against Deer, The Easy Way

September 24th, 2009

XtremDeerInUseEveryone is captivated by the beauty of deer, with their lean and elegant physiques and peaceful demeanors.  However, when they forage in your yard, garden, landscape beds, or crops, their loveliness is no longer so admired.

Deer Barrier by Easy Gardener offers the most efficient, economical, and effective means of protecting your garden produce, shrubbery and treasured landscape plants from being dinner for four-legged wildlife.  This black mesh barrier is quick and easy to install, and it gets the job done without obscuring the beauty of your natural environment.

Made of UV-protected poly mesh material, Deer Barrier is designed to last.  It won't rust, rot or corrode, and it doesn't conduct electricity.  It also withstands climate changes and won't fade due to sun exposure. It also has openings too small for feet to get caught in, so no humans or invading wildlife can be trapped by it.

Deer Barrier is lightweight and has no rough edges, making it a cinch to install.  It attaches easily to fences, posts and trees to provide a physical barrier that is sheer enough to barely be visible.  It is available in three package sizes:  7' x 100', 7' x 350'.

By securing Deer Barrier to the ground, and around the perimeter of your garden, you can also keep vermin, dogs, rabbits and raccoons away from your maturing produce.  This mesh is strong and resilient and animals steer clear of areas protected by its physical limiting abilities.

If you're looking for a one-man, fast and low-tech installation, this mesh fence is your answer.  Deer Barrier is the most transportable and maneuverable material available.  Depending on the durability you seek, you can even use a basic wood stapler and have a complete barrier constructed in minutes.  For a more stable, permanent fence, consider strapping cords to secure each few yards to upright posts.

A great way to contain pets, Deer Barrier can also be used for temporary housing to keep animals in.  It sets up quickly when a pen is needed.  Since it is easy to roll and unroll, it can be used over and over.  And because it contains no metal or sharp edges, it's safe to use around the animals you want to protect, as well as the ones you wish to repel.  You can feel like a good environmental steward by using poly mesh instead of metal or treated wood materials that break down and harm the soil.

One of the biggest benefits of Deer Barrier is its low cost.  It can be attached to existing upright posts or trees, or a few inserted new posts, in minutes.  Very little investment is required for the average property owner, and certainly the cost of your plants and yard are well worth the protection!

When Should Kale, Collards & Brussels Be Planted?

September 24th, 2009

brusselsI live in North VA and buy mostly all of my vegetable plants from Garden Harvest Supply. I’d like to know when would be the best time of the year for me to plant Kale, Collards, and Brussel Sprouts? Thank you.

Answer:  The best time for planting these items is in the early spring. Kale, collards, cabbages, Brussels sprouts and lettuces are considered “cool-season crops,” meaning they need the cool soil and air temperatures to germinate and develop. Generally they are shallow-rooted and thus require constant, even moisture. Once the temperatures start to rise their development will start to decline, so you want to get them into the ground once the threat of hard frost has passed. Some varieties can tolerate light frosts so you would need to check each variety to be sure. If you are purchasing plant starts from Garden Harvest Supply, they will be shipped to you at the proper planting time. If you are starting from seed indoors, check the germination time on the package and count backwards from the last frost date of your area to know when to start the seed. The nice thing about the cool-season crops is you can have a second season in the fall. Determine what the first hard frost date is for your area and based on the “days to maturation” listing for each crop, count backwards and set out a second round of crops in the fall.

Have a great harvest!

Which plants for a sloped area?

September 23rd, 2009

heuchera_gingeraleWe recently put up a retaining wall. On the back side of the wall is a steep slope. I would like to plant thia area with items that look nice and will control erosion with little care after established. The area is also quite large. What do you suggest?  Thanks, Shelly

Answer: You do not say the conditions of the area or your location. My suggestions will be pretty general for that reason.

First you want to make sure you are planting only perennial plants, those that come back every year. They still require some maintenance but generally just some occasional cutting back or deadheading.

If this is a sunny location, consider first a low-growing ground cover like Euphorbia or Sedum; also, Ajuga, but it would prefer a little shade. You could mix in some tall grasses – there are so many varieties and sizes to choose from. These, once established, are very drought tolerant, as are Agastaches, Achillea and Salvias. Don’t forget some fall color with Asters, Rudbeckia or Mums. Artemisia can also make a beautiful planting but if really happy can get to be a bit of a thug, so be watchful. It’s worth the work for some because of its unusual silver foliage and fragrance that repels bugs.

If this is a shaded location then you can never go wrong with Hostas, Heucheras and Heucherellas, Ferns and Brunneras.  In time they will form a complete ground cover. All will tolerate some morning or late afternoon sun but really want some protections from the hot midday sun. Actaea makes a striking mass planting but they can get quite tall, so don’t block out your view with them.

I hope that helps point you in a helpful direction.

Best of luck with the slope.

What should be done once broccoli starts flowering?

September 22nd, 2009

broccoliI was just wondering what I should do when broccoli starts flowering. It’s quite a small head and I’ve been reading up a bit on the Net and it says to let it go to seed. Is it still possible to eat the broccoli with a few flowers on it? If not, how should I go about letting it seed because these things are really new to me and I would love to have more seeds to plant. Should I cut off the head of broccoli and what do I do with the head to make it seed? And what would be the process to get the seeds out? I look forward to your reply. Regards, Abby

Answer: What we generally think of as broccoli is really a bunch of developing flower buds, so when growing broccoli you should cut the main center stalk as soon as it looks like a bunch you would eat. There will be lots of shoots developing off the side branches. Each of these “heads” will produce a number of flowers and if pollinated will produce a number of seeds. Once the seed pods have developed and ripened, and turned brown, you can harvest the seeds and save in a cool location for early spring planting next year. If the plants you are harvesting are from a hybrid variety and if you are growing other plants of the brassic family, such as cauliflower or cabbage, you might get some unexpected results next season because they are prone to cross-pollination. For this reason you might consider just purchasing seed or starter plants and harvesting your broccoli for eating. As for eating the flowers, apparently they are editable and there are even recipes for broccoli flower soup.

Good luck with your broccoli harvesting.

Growing Papaya from Seeds

September 14th, 2009

papaya_seedI work on a property in Brisbane and was wondering if you could give me any tips on how to grow papaya from seeds. I’ve got a heap of seeds drying out at the moment and have been looking for info on how to go about germinating them. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Regards Abby

Answer: If you have harvested the seeds, then I will assume you have washed and cleaned the outer coating from the ripe seeds, the darker ones. The drying process should take place in a cool place. Dusting the seeds with a fungicide is recommended, as is planting the seeds as soon as they have dried. Papaya seedlings do not transplant well; it is best to start with a large container so that you will only need to transplant once. Of course, you could just start them outside in the bed to completely avoid the stress of transplanting. Papaya seeds, unfortunately, are also prone to ‘damping off'; using a light, sterile planting mix is highly recommended. The seeds will take about fourteen days to germinate, so be patient.

As the seedlings develop, remove the weaker ones. Once they begin to flower, you will want to remove the majority of the male plants, just leaving a few to pollinate the flowers on the female plants. How do you tell the difference between male and female?  The male plants will flower earlier than the females and you can thin them as they bloom, always keeping the strongest. Their flowers will have long, thin stalks with several smallish blooms, while the female blooms are singular, larger, and closer to the trunk of the tree. One male plant can pollinate approximately fifteen plants.

I hope this helps and that you have a bountiful crop of tasty papayas.

Organic Method for Black Scurge on Peaches

September 11th, 2009

I have 2 peach trees in my back yard, and I have used 2 fungicides (Captan and wettable sulfur) to prevent “scurge,” a black scurge which invovlved  the skin of the peaches. Is there anything “organic” that you have to prevent the “scurge”? Thank you very much, Bob

Answer: Bob, thank you for your inquiry about the problem with your peach trees. Since I am not personally familiar with the diseases of peach trees, I did a little research without finding anything labeled as “black scurge.”  I’m going to assume you’re dealing with the common problems of peach trees, Leaf Curl or Brown Rot, both of which affect the fruit as well as the leaf.

Leaf Curl is a common fungal infection that occurs in the spring on peach and nectarine trees. Symptoms are leaves becoming distorted in the early spring, turning to a purplish color and then becoming gray and powder-covered, then they drop off. The fruit will have reddish color with brown soft spots turning to rot.

The spore overwinters on the bark and bud and will be worse with cool, wet springs after a mild winter. To control the spread of it you need to spray with a fungicide, making sure to completely cover the tree, early in the spring before the leaves appear. Be sure to remove and destroy any affected leaves or fruit at the end of the season to help control the spread of the disease.

Brown Rot is also a fungal condition that affects the stone or seed of the fruit, causing the fruit to be covered with brown soft circles, before it shrivels and develops a fuzzy coating of the fungus. The fungus overwinters on old mummified fruit that is left on the tree over the winter.  Make sure to remove and destroy any fruit left. 

The organic method of control would be to remove by hand any fruit that begins to show signs during the growing season, not allowing any rotting fruit to remain on or near the tree. Harvest fruits as soon as they turn to all yellow and avoid bruising. Allow them to ripen off the tree. In the late winter or early spring, thin the tree to provide more air circulation, which is essential to reduce wetness that encourages brown rot.

If this does not sound like your problems, please send more details or contact your county Extension office with samples so they can assist in the proper diagnosis.

The Joy of Canning

September 10th, 2009

Canning_JarsYour summer harvest is probably all in by now, and you may even have an overabundance of tomatoes, zucchini, or other crops. Have you thought about putting them up? Canning is a terrific end-of-summer activity, and after you've heard from our featured canner Suzanne McMinn and her friends at the online forum Chickens in the Road, you may want to give it a try, if you're not already doing it.

Suzanne is an example of a modern canner: she didn't learn until she was in her forties and moved from the suburbs to a farm. As with many people new to canning, Suzanne was soon hooked. Last week on her blog she wrote, I've canned a lot this summer already and I'm not done. I've canned things I've canned before–jams and butters, tomatoes and green beans, and I've canned things I haven't tried before–relishes and pickles and salsas. There are more new things I want to try before the summer canning season is over. There's always something new to try in canning.

Though Suzanne learned to can from a neighbor, she expanded her knowledge by reading, and some of her friends at Chickens in the Road learned entirely from books. The canning bible Suzanne recommends is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which we currently have on hand in a beautifully designed centenary edition.

The reasons people love to can are as varied as their personalities. When Suzanne cans staples like tomatoes, the process makes her feel practical and self-sufficient. When she concocts treats like Madeira Pear Mincemeat and Blackberries in Framboise and puts them up, canning allows her to express a gourmet flair.

You can get an incredible sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and creative fulfillment from putting up your own food, she says. There's nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.

Nearly all the posters on Chickens In the Road would agree: their pleasure in hearing the pop of the lids as they open seems to be equaled only by their feeling of satisfaction when they hear the lids pop closed at the end of the canning process.

A forum member named Susan writes, I love hearing the pop, pop, pop of the lids sealing. This week it has been apples and tomatoes. Last week it was green beans, before that it was more tomatoes, salsa blackberries and cherry jam way back in June.

Likewise, Estella writes, I love the sound of the ‘ping' when the jar seals!  It is a magic sound of a job well done, a sigh of satisfaction from a full cupboard. The next few weeks are going to be very busy picking vegetables and canning.

The posters at Chickens In the Road also share Suzanne's overall good feelings about canning. A poster named Cindy writes, It gives me a feeling of accomplishment when I open a cupboard and see all of the pretty jars filled with our garden bounty, waiting to be opened in the middle of winter, or given as gifts. I love not having to go to the store to buy these things. They have gotten so expensive!

Another poster identified as Fencepost confided that since her husband has been out of work, he has become the Jelly King and Salsa Sultan, and that canning has been good therapy. He has laid up more than five cases of jelly and two cases of salsa and she plans to give them as Christmas gifts.

Some of the posters report that their children definitely prefer home canned to commercially canned food. Cyndi L, writes, My eight-year-old asked when we were going to have ‘real green beans again.' She would not eat store bought beansshe called them ‘fake beans.' I made the garden a priority this year, and have put up forty quarts of green beans and planted another two rows of fall beans, which are doing great and will hopefully give me another forty quarts.

Talking about children, it's interesting to note that while some of the forum members have been canning since they were very young, others have started as recently as this summer. We'll be hearing from some of these newcomers, but first we'd like to share some of the wonderful memories of the veteran canners.

Amy Buchanan writes, When I was four years old, my job was to stand on a chair and turn the crank of the meat grinder as Mom fed endless apricot halves into it. We spent a couple years living with my Grandparents while Dad was overseas. Gardening and canning were expected of everyone. When Dad got out of the army years later, we lived next door to my Grandma and Grandpa and continued that. My collection of beautiful filled jars makes me happy. Sharing them with my friends makes me happy. Having canned them with my kids (ages 2, 5, 7) makes me giddy beyond belief. It reaffirms the ties to my Mom and Grandma (and all the canners before them I never had the chance to meet), and brings back all those memories of the times we worked together.

Another long-time canner, Lola Dawn, writes, Nothing tasted as good as my Granny's homemade sauerkraut! White as snow, it was crunchy, tangy goodness. Store bought cannot even compare, the taste is not even close. My mom made a sour piccalilli that is a family favorite. It was a labor-intensive endeavor and spanned weeks of watching and prepping. But so worth it! I remember one summer we made thirty gallons of dill pickles. Going to the cellar to retrieve Mason jars and washing them by hand in unbelievably hot water, snapping green beans for hours, washing veggies, grinding, peeling, pitting.But I am thankful for what I was taught. Most of it can be applied as life lessons: finish what you start; hard work pays off; tried and true is usually best; prepare for the future.

Among the canners who have just started this summer is Maryann, who writes, I shunned all attempts at homemaking and homestead skills when I was young. How foolish that was. Now, I am learning as I go the things I could have learned as a child. I learn from books, team up with like-minded friends and spend a lot of time on the phone with my Mom. (Eating humble pie.) The best thing I've done in a long time was to pick strawberries and cherries with my Mom and Dad while they visited this summer and turn our work into strawberry jam and canned cherries. My Mom said it was so good to work side by side with me in this.

Senta Sandberg has a similar story, but one that is particularly touching: My Grandmother had planned on teaching me this year and she did, but from her death bed, literally! She planted six rows of green pintos just for me, and she talked me through the process while in her hospital bed. Now I know how much she loved me, all those years she shared her canning treatsit takes a lot of love and work to make it all work out just right. But I'm glad I gave it a try and I'm even gladder that she was still alive to share in the accomplishment with me. Even though we lost her in June, I will always cherish our last summer of canning together.

Finally, don't be discouraged if there is no one around to personally show you how to can. Our master gardener Karen is happy to answer your questions, and the folks at Suzanne's online forum are ready and willing to lend a virtual helping hand. As you can tell from their comments, canning is about much more than preserving food: it's about self-sufficiency, creativity, family traditions, and love!

Snap & Grow Greenhouse Manuals

September 10th, 2009

The snap-n-go system is designed to make assembly of the heavy-duty aluminum frame easy and error-free.  The crystal-clear SnapGlasâ„¢ panels simply slide into place and are virtually unbreakable.

Here is a link for the 6’x8′ manual.

Here is a link for the 8’x8′ manual.

When Should I Pick My Gourds?

September 9th, 2009

apple_gourdThis is my first year growing gourds and I would like to know when the best time is to pick the gourds from their vine. A friend gave me an apple gourd last year and I planted them but not sure when to pick them. Could you please let me know?  I live in Chatsworth, GA.  Thanks!

Answer: Congratulations on your gourds! Your process is just beginning…

Apple Gourds have a 90-100 day germination season, a fairly long season by Midwestern standards but great for Georgia. Beginning with the onset of autumn you will want to decrease any additional watering you might be doing and let the vines begin to die. Leave your gourds on the vines until there has been a light frost or the stems turn brown. When you pick the Apple Gourds the skin should be firm to the touch, and leave at least an inch or more of the stem. Once harvested, clean them with some soapy water, with a small amount of chlorine bleach added to help control mold. Allow them to dry in a warm place with good air circulation, such as a barn.  Gourds that become soft or begin to rot should be removed, but you can save their seeds. As the gourds dry, mold will develop on the outer skin and this is normal. For this reason you should not dry them inside your home. The odor could also be offensive, so pick somewhere not usually frequented. They can also be left out in the garden on the vines to dry as they would naturally. Gourds can take 3-6 months to completely dry, depending on their size. They are done and ready for decoration when they are light in weight and rattle when you shake them.

There are several sites online dedicated to gourd growing and decoration and there is even the American Gourd Society, as well as several state and local societies that can provide a wealth of additional information.

Good luck and I hope you have lots of beautiful gourds for your holiday decorations.

Popcorn Lovers' Paradise

August 28th, 2009

gourmet_popcornFor anyone who loves popcorn, there are now more reasons than ever to make it your favorite snack food.

Popcorn is a whole grain, meaning the bran and germ are intact, so you get the benefit of natural fiber.  Those who are conscious of their calorie and carb intakes will appreciate that popcorn is a healthy, filling, satisfying and high fiber snack. And instead of tasting like a cardboard health food, it tastes like a fantastic treat.  Served plain, drizzled with butter and salt, or lightly coated with any combination of healthier seasonings like black pepper and cheddar powder or dried dill and lime juice, you just can't beat the satisfaction of biting into a handful of fresh-popped kernels.

If you're already convinced that popcorn is the best nutritional and economical snack food around, you're really in for a treat if you're not yet familiar with Amish Country Popcorn.  It is the gourmet popcorn for those with a discerning palate, yet it isn't priced like a gourmet food.  For the same cost as a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips, you can have a 2-pound bag of Amish Gourmet Popcorn on your shelf, awaiting your hunger pangs.  The difference is, this snack is guilt-free!

Amish Gourmet Popcorn is special because the tender hulls won't get caught in your teeth.  They're full, fluffy, light and delicate and allow all the flavor of the puffy white corn to come through.  Most people refer to this popcorn as hulless, but there really is no such thing.  It's just that this popcorn's hull is thinner, and the crop is bred and harvested to be light and tendervery different from store-bought brands.

Amish Gourmet Popcorn is all natural, and truly is grown by Amish old-world standards.  It comes in a range of popcorn sizes, including baby, medium and large kernels in colors white, yellow, blue, red, purple, black and rainbow.  There is a type to please every popcorn lover.  And, to keep it interesting, it's nice to have a few varieties ready to choose from on your shelves. Like fine wines, there are subtle flavor and texture differences among the colors and types of popcorn.

Once you've experienced the difference in the fluffy and tender hulls of Amish Gourmet Popcorn, you'll be addicted.  You'll never want to be caught without a few bags on your pantry shelves.  It also makes a great gift.  Just be warned:  after you've tasted this gourmet popcorn, you'll never want to buy any other.  It just is that unique!  The best part is that it's priced like most other high-quality popcorn on the supermarket shelves.

Amish Gourmet Popcorn can be prepared by the same methods as all other popcorn, but if you want the most health benefits, the hot-air popper is your best bet.  It's the lowest fat, highest yield method.  And, the kernels will retain the maximum amount of puffiness and flavor.

Ahhhcan't you just smell that fresh-popped aroma?  If you're hungry for popcorn, nothing else will satisfy like Amish Gourmet.  Try some today, or if you're already a fan and believe that this is the best popcorn on the planet, try some of the varieties you've never tasted beforethere are more than a dozen.  They're all equally delicious!